“Mercy Given to the Hard Hearted”

Matthew 13:1-23

Jesus has had quite a day. We have spent a couple of Sundays reading through things that happened on this day, beginning in chapter 12. Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field and were hungry so they ate some grains of wheat in the field and the Pharisees accused them of working on the Sabbath. Then when they made it to the synagogue, Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand. Again, the religious leaders were appalled with Jesus “working” on the Sabbath. Jesus left the synagogue and continued to heal everyone that came in contact with Him. 

At this point the common person wondered if He really was the “Son of David?” 

The religious leaders claimed He was from Satan. At which point, Jesus recognized their hard hearts especially when the Pharisees requested a sign from Jesus. As if all the things Jesus had been doing weren’t signs enough. Jesus didn’t fall into their trap but called them a “wicked generation.” Things seemed to get so bad, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived in order to set Jesus straight. This was where Jesus made a turn from His human roots and stepped toward His Savior role, the last verse of chapter 12,


“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus left the house and He discovered not only was His family outside waiting for Him, but there was a great multitude of people gathered together. He got into a boat while the multitudes stood on the shore. 

This gave Him a place to speak, without being pressed by the crowd and it also provided natural acoustics and a nice backdrop. 

Again, Jesus turned everything upside-down. Teaching was supposed to occur in the synagogue not in a boat. Jesus was thrown out of the synagogue so He went to the street, on the roads, by the lakes, and in their homes. Plus, did you notice that  Jesus was sitting while the crowd was standing. Charles Spurgeon made an astute comment regarding this, “The teacher sat, and the people stood: we should have less sleeping in congregations if this arrangement still prevailed.” 

From this point on, Jesus will be teaching in parables. The word parable has the sense of “to throw alongside of.” It is meant to be a story thrown alongside the truth one is trying to teach. 

Parables are “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.” The benefit of parables is that they generally teach one main point or principle. They are meant to be heard not read as when we hear a story we are more apt to remember it. By putting the main point in a story those who were listening put their minds to thinking and studying the meaning and that too kept the point in their memory. 

Parables are not the same as an allegory. They do not hold an intricate system of theology. An allegory has to be read to be studied as every possible detail has an inner meaning. Parables are a simple story that focuses on one main point.  Jesus begins with a simple story about a farmer who was sowing seeds. Jesus was using the agricultural customs of His day. 

In those days, seeds were scattered first and then they were plowed into the ground. In this parable the seed fell on four different types of soil:

  • Along the path – where the birds could come and eat it up
  • Rocky places – not much soil, the plants quickly grew but because the soil was shallow, the sun scorched them and they withered because they had no root
  • Among thorns – which grew up and choked the plants to death
  • Good soil – where a crop was grown, from thirty to a hundred times more than what was sown

Then Jesus repeats the phrase, 

“Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Or in other words, if you are spiritually sensitive, take note. 

The disciples take note. They question Jesus as to why He would speak to the crowd in parables, rather than telling them straight out what they needed to hear. 

This was a fair question. Those who were in the crowd were not of the literate crowd. Most of them were common people who had not studied or gone to school. Wouldn’t a simple illustration of the spiritual truth make more sense?

Jesus’ explanation is heartwarming but a bit sad. Jesus’ use of parables was meant to keep the hearts of those who were rejecting Him from hardening even further. 

An analogy of such is, 

“The same sun that softens the wax, hardens the clay.” 

Using parables meant that the responsibility of its message was left entirely in the hands of the listener. The meaning was dependent upon the condition of the heart of the listener. The listener either desires to know the truth or for those who were either too lazy to think or too blinded by prejudice, the truth would be concealed. By using parables, Jesus was able to speak to the crowds and convey information to those who were prepared to be challenged in their faith. 

Jesus went on to explain that for those who were open and sensitive to spiritual truths, they would receive more through parables. Yet to those where were not open, they would miss out and end up in an even worse condition. 

Jesus demonstrated mercy to the hard hearted. The parables Jesus used were not meant to be illustrations that would make difficult things clear to all. 

Instead, He presented God’s message in a way that would provide mercy to all. 

  • The spiritually sensitive would be able to understand.
  • The hard hearted would merely hear a story without heaping up additional condemnation for rejecting God’s Word.

Another example of how Jesus demonstrated an upside-down kingdom. The Jewish leaders were building rejection of Jesus and His ministry. The human response would be to defend, prove the truth, and set the story straight. Instead, Jesus gives mercy to the undeserving. 

We continue to discover that speaking in parables was a fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah, where the speaking of the Messiah would be in such a way that the hard hearted would hear but not hear and see but not see.

Mercy was given to the hard hearted, something only God would do. Blessings were given to those whose eyes could see and whose ears could hear. They were blessed by gaining the benefit of the spiritual truth illustrated and the receptivity of the Holy Spirit. 

Then Jesus proceeded to explain the parable of the sower. Each type of soil represented one of four responses to the Word of the Kingdom.

Here is an excellent test as to where our hearts are today. As we listen to the explanation, the heart that is eager to learn and come closer to Jesus and live out the Kingdom will question themselves as to where they fit into the story. 

Which type of soil have you been experiencing lately? 

Which type of soil would you like to experience? 

“Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Type 1: Those who receive the seed along the path.

Those who hear the Word but their hearts are hard so they never really hear the word with true understanding. In order to bear fruit the Word of God must be understood. If Satan can keep people from understanding the Word, his job is quickly accomplished. This isn’t just a non-churched problem. Many of us who have heard many a sermon become “sermon trodden.” We stop listening because we think we have heard it all before. There is a problem with that theory. The last time you heard a  sermon on the parable of the sower, for example, you were a different person. You have changed, hopefully for the better, but still you are in a different phase of your life. 

The unique thing about God’s Word is that it is, 

“…alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12

Your thoughts and attitudes are different from the last time you heard a sermon on the parable of a sower. God’s Word is sharp, allow it to penetrate and bless you. 


Type 2: Those who receive the seed along rocky places. 


I think we can all relate to living among the “rocky places.” Managing five days with Covid seems rocky to me. The Michauds are in the midst of a “rocky” time in their life. You want the Word to take root but there are so many rocks in the way, or trials and tribulations, that it is easy to collapse under pressure. 

For the new hearer of the Word, there is no root and the excitement of understanding your sins are forgiven and God loves you no matter what, is quickly deflated. The Word needs time to grow. For the one who has roots, when the rocks appear there needs to be time set aside to nurture them. 

Type 3: Those who receive the seed among the thorns. 

We live among the thorns on a daily basis. The Word of God grows but so does the competition from unspiritual things. Which one do we allow to grow faster? Where do we turn our eyes on a daily basis? Do we turn our eyes upon Jesus? Or do we turn our eyes and focus on the cares of this world? God isn’t asking us to live in a bubble. We are called to live amongst the weeds, until Jesus returns again. We are expected to live with a mindset of the centered set. 

Keeping our eyes on Jesus, who is in the center, regardless of how far away from the center we may feel, keeps us from being strangled by the weeds. Some days we are closer to the center than others. On the days we feel further away, we should be reaching out to others in the kingdom for prayer and support. Which is another way to keep the weeds at bay. 

The final type, Type 4 – Those who receive the seed on good soil. 

This is where the Word of God is heard and bears fruit. Notice the fruit comes in different proportions, regardless, there is a generous harvest. This means we hear God’s Word, we soak it in and then we share it with those around us. Who in turn, hears God’s Word, soaks it up and shares it with even more. 

In each of these situations the difference was the soil itself. The same sower sowed the same seed. Therefore we can’t blame the sower or the seed. 

The question then is what type of soil resides in you? 

What do we need to do to prepare our hearts to be the right kind of soil? 

Certainly taking time to hear God’s Word is a first step. It is my prayer that each of us not only allow God’s Word to grow, but we allow it to propagate and spread it out to those around us. Remembering, God is in control of where it lands and the listener has the power to allow it to grow. In the meantime, let’s be sure to water it and encourage it to grow. 

Let’s pray.